Mining: tiny footprint, heavy tread

James Nason, 25/07/2011

The resources industry has moved to quell concerns that mining developments could soon blanket large areas of farmland by releasing data to show that mining projects account for a “tiny footprint” of actual land area.

However farmland protection groups say that measures of land area alone do not tell the full story of the flow-on impacts that mining developments have on farming businesses and lifestyles.

The Queensland Resources Council issued a press release last week to challenge claims by “resource sector critics” that 80 percent of Queensland was covered by resource tenure.

The claims were inaccurate, QRC executive director Michael Roche said, because they did not account for the double and triple counting of area under exploration tenure.

Very few exploration permits progressed to the final stage of mining leases being granted and mining developments proceeding, he said.

The QRC had recently calculated the land area currently used by the mining and gas industries in the Darling Downs statistical division, and also looked at what that land use would be by 2020 if all the mooted projects went ahead.

Mr Roche said the research found that the mining and gas sectors currently use 10,000 hectares of the nine million hectares of the Darling Downs – just 0.1pc. By 2020 that figure would grow to 60,000 hectares – less than 0.7pc.

“If the Darling Downs was the size of the entire area of the Gabba stadium, then the resource sector would today occupy 24 seats and by 2020 still only 139 seats.'

“The results show that the resource sector's land use would see a 0.01pc reduction in Australia's wheat production and 0.4pc in chick pea production.”

“Instead of unproductive talk of resources or agriculture the state's prosperity, we should be talking about how our two great primary industries can work together to boost.”

However farmland protection groups say the QRC’s analysis does not tell the full story of mining’s true impact on agricultural areas.

The actual area of land being mined was a poor indicator of the spatial impact of mining, Friends of Felton group spokesman Rob McCreath said.

To provide a comprehensive picture of mining's footprint, the following data would be required:

  • The location and area of land already mined-out and its status (eg, wasteland, rehabilitated, etc);
  • The location and area of land currently being mined and its estimated productive life as a mine;
  • The location and area of land being explored with a view to it being mined in the future (special note should be made of areas being explored for more than one resource eg, coal, gas, bauxite);
  • An aggregation of the above showing the cumulative footprint of the mining industry over its projected life;  and
  • An objective estimate of the externalities flowing from particular mining activities that act to increase the effective size of the footprint eg, dust, noise, congestion, water pollution etc.

“Using the area of land currently being mined as a proxy for the extent of impacts being inflicted on rural communities and the natural environment is deception plain and simple,” Mr McCreath said.

The QRC has previously stated that just 0.1pc of Queensland is under mining lease (the title under which mining developments are approved to proceed), to illustrate its view that mining activities have an insignificant overall impact.

Mr McCreath said 0.1pc of Queensland’s 1,723,936 square kilometre land area (excluding islands) equated to 1,723 square km or 172,300 hectares.

“Not exactly a small area if the land itself is already being used for something else and the affected community is opposed to being moved-on,” Mr McCreath said.

The lack of feasible methods of rehabilitation of former cropping land after open cut coal mining meant that mining’s footprint continually became bigger and bigger.

“Eventually the area actually being mined will be dwarfed by the area already mined – and left behind as 'wasteland',” Mr McCreath said. 

“Without intervention, the cumulative area lost to mining will eventually exceed the area left for food production, natural habitat and habitation, enjoyment and other options yet to be specified.”

Property Rights Australia vice president Lee McNicholl said the actual location of mining developments was often of more significance than the actual size of each development. Mining developments in areas of closely-settled, high value agricultural land and within close proximity to valuable freshwater aquifers heightened impact concerns.

“A tiny footprint is one thing when it is on your foot,” Mr McNicholl said. “But when it is on your throat, that is another thing entirely.”



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